from Intoxicated by
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With this illness
one of my recurrent dreams has finally come true. Several times in
the past I’ve dreamed that I had committed a crime—or perhaps I was
only accused of a crime, it's not clear. When brought to trial I
refused to have a lawyer—I got up instead and made an impassioned
speech in my own defense. This speech was so moving that I could
feel myself tingling with it. It was inconceivable that the jury
would not acquit me—only each time I woke before the verdict. Now
cancer is the crime I may or may not have committed, and the
eloquence of being alive, the fervor of the survivor, is my best
The way my friends have rallied around me is wonderful. They remind
me of a flock of birds rising from a body of water into the sunset.
If that image seems a bit extravagant or tinged with satire, it's
because I can't help thinking there's something comical about my
friends' behavior—all these witty men suddenly saying pious,
They are not intoxicated as I am by my illness, but sobered. Since I
refuse to, they've taken on the responsibility of being serious.
They appear abashed or chagrined in their sobriety. Stripped of
their playfulness these pals of mine seem plainer, homelier—even
older. It's as if they had all gone bald overnight.
Yet one of the
effects of their fussing over me is that I feel vivid, multicolored,
sharply drawn. On the other hand—and this is ungrateful—I remain
outside of their solicitude, their love and best wishes. I'm
isolated from them by the grandiose conviction that I am the healthy
person and they are the sick ones. Like an existential hero, I have
been cured by the truth while they still suffer the nausea of the
I've had eight-inch needles thrust into my belly, where I could feel
them tickling my metaphysics. I've worn Pampers. I've been licked by
the flames, and my sense of self has been singed. Sartre was right:
You have to live each moment as if you're prepared to die.
Now at last I understand the conditional nature of the human
condition. Yet, unlike Kierkegaard and Sartre, I'm not interested in
the irony of my position. Cancer cures you of irony. Perhaps my
irony was all in my prostate. A dangerous illness fills you with
adrenaline and makes you feel very smart. I can afford now, I said
to myself, to draw conclusions.